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Posts Tagged ‘prison’

66. “Almost Home: My Life Story, Vol 1,” Damien Echols

October 9, 2010 4 comments

Damien Echols is one of three West Memphis teenagers tried and wrongfully convicted in the murder of three children. This book tells about Damien’s childhood, his constant harassment by the police department, the conditions of his imprisonment, his conversion to Zen Buddhism, and his marriage.

It just so happened that I read two books at the same time about the great shame of the US prison system. Damien contends that the reason that he was targeted by the police for these “Satanic” murders is that he was a poor outsider who wore black and had been hospitalized for a mental illness. Ever since an incident at work where they called the police on a woman who was obviously mentally ill, I’ve been bumping up against the entwining of the prison and mental health systems.

This was written on the endpages of the book:


A prison guard is life’s ultimate coward. They lack the bravery to be police officers and they have no balls when it comes to be a criminal. They are a parasite that sucks off both worlds. Read Titicut Follies, a documentary/book made by Harvard U students. A Film/book the “system” faught hard to consedle. Than draw your own conclusions. They walk a “cowards journey.”
The night before my release from MCI Bridgewater six guards entered my tiny cel in the middle of the night. They smelt of alcohol. They spit on me and tried to entice me, to respond, so I would looze my parole/release the following day. I sat on my bunk, my head down, and got punked off by my keepers. I walked out of Bridgewater the next day. That was Nov 2, 1989.
I can still smell the first guard who spit on me’s cologne.
Justice, ya right.
It’s now Sept 08.
Cheap cologne.

Pages: 168
Total pages: 19,017

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65. “Assata,” Assata Shakur

October 7, 2010 Leave a comment

“Assata” is the autobiography of Assata Shakur, who was framed by the US government for multiple bank robberies, held for years in deplorable conditions in a men’s prison before being tried and acquitted, and wrongly convicted of the murder of a State Trooper. Assata escaped from prison in 1979 and for the past 26 years, lived in Cuba as a political prisoner. The FBI continues to consider her a domestic terrorist.

I really enjoyed this book. Assata’s an excellent writer, and her writing felt so immediate. I felt like I was with her in every scene, from working on the grandparents’ beach in the summer, to fighting with her mom, or being chained to a hospital bed. I’m not usually able to visualize when I read, but I saw and felt so much of what Assata said.

Assata is such a beautiful person. She has so much love. Black Panthers are usually painted as separatist, dangerous, violent, hateful militants. While Assata never shies from that term, when she uses it, it is an endorsement, not the indictment it is usually used as. Assata reproduces a speech she made in which she said “I am a Black revolutionary. By that i mean that i have declared war on all forces that have raped our women, castrated our men, and kept our babies empty-bellied” (49-50).

We could use more revolutionaries.

Something I knew I would find challenging going into this book is that I grew up White in the suburbs; I have always been taught that police are my friends and are trying to protect me. It’s difficult for me to understand blanket hatred and mistrust of the police, even as I know that for many Black parents teaching their children to fear the police is an act of preservation that they must transmit. I know that intellectually, and reading how Assata was treated by so many people wearing uniforms and official badges, I understand why she hates the police. But part of me still resists. Part of me still wants to see their actions as those of isolated individuals drawn to power, rather than a manifestation of the power of the government.

On 139, Assata writes “nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who are oppressing them.” I think this quote sumarizes well the Black consciousness movement

But in the past several years, I have noticed that I feel the same uneasiness around the police that I have around so many authority figure: they make me feel guilty and scared like I have done something wrong. I am frightened to look directly at them, and frightened not to show them respect. I am starting to wonder how much of the trust I feel or have felt in the police is trust in my own privilege, that I am not the one for whom they are coming. The discomfort has certainly coincided with my questioning of my power.

There in a weekly video broadcast I watch called the Lucille Clifton Rebirth Broadcast. In it, Alexis Grumbs reads a poem by Lucille Clifton and discusses it while giving an assignment for one to write on. This week’s poem was “Dialysis,” in which Lucille Clifton reflects on surviving her cancer, only to then have to survive dialysis, ending, “I am alive and furious.” I loved this line and it made me think of Assata. How wonderful to be alive, how wonderful to be furious, rather than beaten. Assata says near the end of the book, “every day out on the street now, I remind myself that Black people in amerika are oppressed. It’s necessary that I do that. People get used to anything. The less you think about your oppression, the more your tolerance for it grows. After a while, people just think oppression is the normal state of things. But to become free, you have to be acutely aware of being a slave” (262). It takes so much strength and power to face that and keep fighting. After what Assata has been though, she would have earned the right to just quietly run out her days, but that’s not what she does. She keeps writing, keeps speaking truth to power.

Page count: 320
Page total: 18,349

24. “A World Apart: Women, Prison, and Life Behind Bars,” Cristina Rathbone

April 18, 2010 Leave a comment

Page count: 280
Page total: 5,942

10. “The End of Alice,” A.M. Homes

January 25, 2010 3 comments

I picked this book up totally randomly when I was walking through the BPL. I think I might have been thinking of EM Forster when I saw the name. I’m actually glad I grabbed it, even though it’s one of those books that makes you really uncomfortable on the T and that you hope no one will ask about.

Because then you’ll have to tell them, “oh I’m reading a (fictional!) first-person narrative of a pedophile who is imprisoned and exchanging salacious letters with a nineteen-year-old woman who is grooming a child she wishes to molest. Eventually it becomes clear that he’s not interested in her, but he is instead attempting to use her to rape the boy by proxy. Like, there’s one scene where he gets really mad when she rapes him too easily, that it’s too much like consensual sex and not enough like stabbing a child dozens of times, and after she’s dead raping her vaginally, orally, and anally then cutting off her head and stuffing it in her crotch because her menarche reminded you of the sexual abuse your mom inflicted on you.”

“Spoiler alert!,” you’ll add.

Anyway, it was really well written, disturbingly vivid in parts. I’d say that I enjoyed it, but I rather like not being a registered sex offender and don’t want anyone getting the wrong idea. So I’ll say that I also took out another of Homes’ books and am looking forward to reading that one.

Page count: 272
Page total: 2,347

50. “One Day, When I was Lost,” James Baldwin

August 7, 2009 Leave a comment

The subtitle is “A Scenario Based on Alex Haley’s ‘The Autobiography of Malcolm X.”

First, I have not been doing much reading lately.

Second, this was really good. At 268 pages and screenplay format, it is less of a commitment than is Malcolm X’s autobiography, but it made me want to read it. I’m white. I grew up in a white suburb. No one ever tried to teach me about Malcolm X and all I ever heard was that he thought it was okay to kill white people. As I got older, I heard that that wasn’t true, but this play does an eloquent job of explaining who X was and what he believed. Baldwin’s writing is immensely readable. I’m now much more interested in reading “Malcolm X”– I hope Haley is as evocative.

Luther, reflecting on witnessing his brother being lynched when he was a boy:

then I knew– that G-d had turned away from these people forever. They were trying to kill G-d because G-d was black and they knew it. (143)

One of the ministers is unjustly arrested and Malcolm gathers a crowd of ministers and temple members goes to get him out. After a long time, the police acquiesce:

(WHITE) POLICE CHIEF: I just don’t want to see any more bloodshed. Bloodshed never solved anything.
MALCOLM: It did, for you, just as long as the blood was ours. (Addressing the crowd) Brothers, sister, I want to thank you for your patience, for that patience has helped us to save a life. W have seen the brother (who was imprisoned) and we have spoken to the doctors. The brother is much better than before– before your presence forced the white devils to give him decent care. Everything that can be done is beong done, and we feel satisfied that we can end out vigil tonight and go home and get some rest for the many vigils that are coming. There will be many. I want every man, woman, and child here tonight to remember that if you hadn’t been here, our brother might be dead. But, as long as we keep doing like we did tonight, out brothers and sisters will live. (178)

Malcolm speaking at the University of Ghana:

I’m not anti-American, and I didn’t come here to condemn America– I want to make that very clear! I came here to tell the truth– and if the truth condemns America, then she stands condemned! (240)

Page count: 268
Page total: 21,704

25. “Monster”, Walter Dean Myers

March 15, 2009 Leave a comment

This is a very fast read. Most of it is formatted like a movie script, the rest is “handwritten” journal entries.

They take away your shoelaces and your belt so you can’t kill yourself no matter how bad it is. I guess making you live is part of the punishment. (59)

Everybody in here either talks about sex or hurting somebody or what they’re in here for. That’s all they think about and that’s what’s on my mind, too. What did I do? I walked into a drugstore to look for some mints, and then I walked out. What was wrong with that? I didn’t kill Mr. Nesbitt.
Sunset said he committed [his] crime. Isn’t that what being guilty is all about? You actually do something? you pick up a gun and you point it across a small space and pull a trigger? You grab the purse and run screaming down the street? Maybe, even, you buy some baseball cards that you think were stolen [like Mr. Zinzi did]? (140)

I think I finally understand why there are so many fights. In here all you have going for you is the little surface stuff, how people look at you and what they say. And if that’s all you have, then you have to protect that. Maybe that’s right. (155)

[I looked out the window.] I was looking for Jerry. They don’t allow kids in the visiting area, which was funny. It was funny because if I wasn’t locked up, I wouldn’t be allowed to come into the visiting room. (156)

Page count: 281
Total: 14,403

Up next: “Harriet the Spy”, “On Television”, maybe “The War of the Worlds”